Okay, I was not in the center of it all. Secondly, because the bleachers and the front of the lectern were long occupied when I arrived at International Airport in Sanford/FL, two hours before the start of the event. First, because I cannot afford to be an idiot when it comes to virus, and moreover my wife made me swear that I would not turn into one. I belong to risk groups. And here, in a large open space between hangars (inscription: Million Air), folks stood tightly packed, ranks firmly closed, most of them without a mask. No evidence of social distancing – it was like rush hour at Bern train station before the Swiss government finally mandated masks a few days ago, the only difference being that people here stood for hours in the blaring sunlight. So I stayed in the background, on the fringe of the crowd. There was space enough for distancing, no problem. Yes, the lectern was far away, but from afar the Caudillo was still visible, a tiny little man who could be heard loudly and clearly. Huge sound towers spread every word far beyond the buildings. The bass made your innards vibrate when they cranked the music up while Air Force One moved closer on the tarmac. CCR, Elton John, Andrea Bocelli and Céline Dion. Do they know what they happens to their tunes here? Are they paid? The Rolling Stones and – as far as I know – Neil Young have forbidden Trump to use their music for political propaganda purposes.
Arriving was an anticlimax. The Trump-website had asked for registration, twice, which. opened the gate for a flood of e-mails.: Welcome to the team, we need you to do this (enlist as a Trump Leader); guest instructions (directions and parking, masks will be provided – please wear them during the event).Thus prepared, I expected massive ID controlling and list checks. Nothing of that at all. Nobody asked for name or identification. You line up, have your temperature checked, are passing a radar. Then you are in. Your name and number are important for the propaganda effort. As soon as the show was over, the next e-mail beeped up: tonight was electric. And would you not care to become Trump Victory Volunteer?
Was it electric? For Trump diehards most certainly, no question. Compared to a run-of-the-mill campaign event there was plenty of energy in the air here. I have seen Obama and Bernie Sanders, both strong in stoking the flames of political enthusiasm, but their crowds did not come close to the throng of Trumpists in Sanford. This crowd lustily responded to every bite of political red meat thrown out to them even during the pre-game show. Every time an applause soared when the military was mentioned, which happened often (when it comes to the “men and women in uniform”, today’s USA are best compared to Wilhelminian Germany). Four more years. Boos and shrieks when “socialism” was invoked, including its “democratic” variety. Not to forget Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House of Representatives. She plays favorite hate-target – Hillary Clinton’s role in 2016. Lock her up, lock her up. Self-made Trump paraphernalia – a sure sign of hot political engagement – were visible in dozens. One woman stitched a Trump head on her socks. A man sported incorrigible deplorable on his T-Shirt, a reference to Clinton’s deplorable sneer against the likes of him, hand-embroidered by his wife. Bre Shoh from Jacksonville sold 10-dollar face masks with the Trump-logo. The plastic wrapping read made in China and this product is a fashion dust mask (non-medical masks). Only a party convention in a presidential election year produces a similar mass excitement as the one to be felt in front of the airport hangars in Sanford. Part football cup final game, part rock festival, part turnip fair back home in Madiswil. No offense to the Swiss wrestlers: I felt just a little bit like being at the Eidgenössisches Schwing- und Älplerfest, the Federal Swiss Wrestling and Alpine tournament (btw: the greatest sporting event in Switzerland and one of the greatest in Europe). Minus the tension about the outcome. And minus the cordiality.
Anyways – it was different than imagined. I expected the event of a political cult. Animosity, rancor, venom, a hate-fest. Suspicious eyeing of mask-wearers or those who do not applaud, aggressive questioning. But it was not like this, not at all. We mask-wearers were left alone. At the entrance, helpers offered face-masks and disinfectant. True, the large majority walked by and was moving around free-faced. Including the speakers, of course, Trump and all the others. But nevertheless I was surprised not to be the only one who wore a face-covering. How many we were is a hard guess. Maybe one in five, maybe less. Maybe more in the back than up front in the epicenter of the crowd.
The crowd: compared to the lilywhite Republican conventions of past decades the followers in Sanford were a monument of diversity. Of course, whites were a large majority, many families with kids among them, many people of advanced age, often couples (maybe the barren environment of Florida’s fifty-five-plus communities cries for entertainment). There were a lot of Latinos. Spanish was heard (Trumpito !). I saw several black folks, mixed couples, too. For most in the crowd the recommended casual attire appeared less of a challenge than a continuation of the normal day. The parking fields, stretching hundreds of meters along the road, were dominated by pickup trucks and compact cars. Cadillacs were as rare as suits and ties in the arena.
Have I overlooked something? Possible. Am I trivializing? I don’t think so. I describe what I have seen and felt. I saw a large number of people among themselves, rather in a festive than in an aggressive mood, enthused by their man and disgusted with his opponent. That’s how politics is played out. Radically, to be sure. But closer to the center of society than to its fringes. Part of the “midst of society”. Given the right circumstances, the right tonality of the discourse, the right arousal of the right animosities, right-wing extremist politics can can sprout out of this midst and have sprouted in the past. We know it. It is acceptable to draw historical parallels – not only regarding the “extremes” but also regarding what was considered normalcy at the time and is considered now. It might be worth one’s while to have a look at the Harvest Festivals in Bückeburg in the Germany of the 1930s. I suspect that they were events for normal folks and not for extreme minorities.
Oh yeah, Donald Trump. A little before seven he landed. Air Force One rollte along the bleachers, turned and rolled closely to the lectern which was mounted by the Caudillo without further ado. Greetings to my homestate of Florida (Trump newly registered in Florida and votes by mail). Then a few riffs against his opponent Joe Biden who – the Hannity radio show blasted it throughout the afternoon –had committed some gaffes the other day.He called Utah-Senator Romney “this Mormon Senator” because he could not remember his name, and spoke of the long dead Mao Zedong as the Chinese leader, and also told voters that he was candidate for the Senate. Sleepy Joe, unfit for office. Trump smugly has some fun with this, and in the audience a young man says: he’s doing a comedy routine – awesome.
It is not true that Trump was “hoarse”, as the New York Times wrote. Not hoarser than all presidential candidates in the last weeks of campaigning. He spoke and spoke, over an hour, and it is fairly astonishing that a 74 year-old can do this two weeks after a Covid infection.
What was it he said? He gave his stump speech, like all presidential candidates. The prix-fixe menu, standard. Trump’s act is like a Rolling Stones concert: the old hits, performed by an old man: My opponent is a communist masquerading as a socialist, who wants to morph America into a second Cuba or Venezuela. Biden will take away your Medicare and the Social Security. They want to open the borders and let criminals into the country. They will erase God from the pledge of allegiance. A mob of left-wing radicals destroys our cities. The Lincoln memorials are in danger. Biden will slow down the development of a Corona-vaccine, prolong the pandemic and ruin the economy.
We have to hold against all of that. Keep the schools open and get the economy going again. We are at it. The stock market is flying high. The third quarter figures will be great, the economy of the coming year will be the best ever. I nominate conservative judges. We have to hold, now. If we fail it will be too late. There is no comeback from where they take us.
Four more years, four more years.
We love you, we love you.
Given the Corona figures and the most recent developments, it is surprising how much Trump talks about the pandemic. You could expect that he plays down the issue. But he inflates it. He boasts it was him who cut China and Europe off the US, no one acted faster as I did. A vaccine will “soon” be available, and he, Trump, would make all wonder drugs which healed him available to everybody, free of charge. They say I am immune. And: 90 percent of the people who get it are ok, with children it is even 99,9 percent. No mandates. The World Health Organization now says too that lockdowns were more harmful than helpful (at this point we do – exception – a short fact check: it is not true what Trump says. A WHO representative only said that lockdowns should be applied as last resort). Let everyone do as they please, be as prudent as they wish, I don’t care.
The crowd’s biggest applause comes when Trump – no joke – declares I am not a politician. The seconds largest, when he tears into “the media”. But after half an hour folks start leaving. The parking spaces are far away, backups are to be expected. Perhaps the kids have to go to bed
What started out as a Stones concert, now turns into one of those football matches where the odds-on favorite is behind and stubbornly tries to even the game with ever the same plays. Almost all polls have Trump behind. So clearly behind, that campaign professional James Carville, Clinton’s old warhorse, now talks about a landslide of the Democrats across the board – Presidency, Senate, House. Trump’s chance is in mobilizing not only those voters who elected him four years ago but also voters who are on his side but did not go to the polls before. Therefore the old hits, the ever-the-same plays. In his second half-hour Trump repeats himself more and more. Ruin of the economy under a Biden presidency. All individual freedoms of decision out of the window. Gun rights. Fracking in Pennsylvania. Biden’s son and the millions of the wife of the mayor of Moscow. The wall on the border of Mexico. 400 miles are built already, we are doing 10 miles per day. And by the way, Mexico is paying. Mexico has 22 000 soldiers on the border who prevent crossings into the US.
What a President Trunp would do in his second term remains mainly in the dark. You ain’t seen nothing yet, he says. Like erstwhile Ronald Reagan. So? The first woman on the moon. “Very soon” a human on Mars. A veiled threat against China. A lot of Corona, until the very end. I feel great. Greatly recovered. I’m very young and I’m in such perfect shape. So phenomenally in shape that he would like to kiss each man and each woman in the crowd, a big fat kiss. This is the news morsel which is taken up by some media. Trump the party clown, as we know him. Another facet of the act goes unreported: Trump the pol, the old-fashioned, traditional money-dispensing politician. The President brags that he liberated federal money when Florida was hit by bad weather. Several times. Always, always would he have an open ear for the concerns of the governor, he says. We take care of you, Florida. For Trumpists, such a thing normally passes as “corruption” in the “swamp” of Washington.
What does it matter here? Donald Trump is a lifestyle. He is to his followers what the Harley-Davidson is for a particular species of motorcycle riders. On the bosom of a young woman I read guns, whiskey, Trump and freedom.
The crowd is long moving toward the exit gate when Trump finishes his act. The speakers are booming. Queen. Bohemian Rhapsody. Is this the real life, is this just fantasy?
Published in German on www.watson.ch